Thanks to the Level the Table funding, Clare Flynn and Rita Dixon were able to establish a women-only session at Brandon Table Tennis club and, one year on, it has been a great success.

Clare and Rita were inspired to create a session for women after realising there were a lack of opportunities and wanted to give back to their community in Brandon, which is just west of Durham.

The ‘Topspinners’ sessions have up to 19 women and girls attend each week and the ages of participants range from 10 to 80 years old.

Clare and Rita have created a friendly, safe environment where women can build confidence and genuine connections. The sessions not only help the participants to stay fit but they also help to improve mental wellbeing – here are some quotes from those who attend:

“There is so much laughter, genuine warmth and friendship, so not only is it good for our mental health and wellbeing . . . the coaching support encourages a noticeable improvement . . . and keeps us fit too” – Alison Watson.

“I look forward to joining the girls for table tennis every Thursday. It is one of the highlights of my week. It is a safe haven where I can be me and forget all about the current pressing issues. I am learning new skills and developing friendships. Playing table tennis helps me both physically and mentally . . . I’m looking forward to many more enjoyable practice sessions” – Sue.

“I only live up the road from Table Tennis Club but never thought of joining as my perception was ‘male and competitive!’ Topspinners has proved a fantastic gateway into the sport – fun, supportive and we’ve all improved!!” – Diane.

“I haven’t played table tennis for over fifty years and wonder why. What will keep me playing in the future is the Topspinners group – female friendship, fitness and fun” – Hillary.

“I always feel energised and younger at the end of the session despite being comfortably tired!” – Annette.

Clare and Rita also provided advice for others who are looking to set up women and girls sessions:

  • Find the right place to advertise – Rita and Clare advertised their sessions in the library, doctors’ surgery, the local swimming baths (which is next door to the club), Women’s Institute and Facebook pages.
  • Ask the women at your sessions to bring friends along to help the session to continue to grow.
  • Ask the participants what they would like to do in the sessions – at the start of the Brandon TTC sessions they have 15 minutes scheduled in for everyone to catch up about their week, then they have some open play, Clare then leads with a coaching tip of the week – providing some more technical feedback and those that want to can be coached and work on their skills, they also schedule in a tea/coffee break which allows the women to socialise and then they can return to open play or playing games.
  • Time of the day is important and will mean the audience you capture may vary, dependent on the time.
  • Be persistent and it will grow!

If you are local to Brandon Table Tennis Club, the session runs every Thursday morning, 10-12 at Brandon Community Hall (DH7 8PS). Women of any age are invited to play, no matter what their level or experience. Equipment can be provided, and they aim for the sessions to be fun, welcoming and a chance to socialise.